Manila cancels Canada Bell helicopter deal

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte gestures as he speaks during a press conference in Davao City on Thursday. (AFP)
Updated 10 February 2018
0

Manila cancels Canada Bell helicopter deal

DAVAO: Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte on Friday abruptly canceled a $235 million contract to buy 16 helicopters from Canada after Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government ordered a review over human rights concerns.
“I want to tell the armed forces to cut the deal. Do not proceed anymore, and somehow we will look for another supplier,” he said of the deal for 16 Bell 412EPI utility helicopters announced by the two governments this week.
Ottawa said Thursday that the deal was under review due to concerns over the human rights record of Duterte, the subject of a complaint in the International Criminal Court (ICC) over the alleged extra-judicial killings of thousands of Filipino drug suspects.
Bell Helicopter said in an announcement of the deal that the aircraft were intended “for a variety of missions such as disaster relief, search and rescue, passenger transport and utility transport.”
However, Manila said they would also be used for “anti-terrorism” operations, including to evacuate soldiers wounded fighting insurgents.
Philippine troops are battling militants in the Muslim south and communist guerrillas in other parts of the mainly Catholic Asian nation.
Duterte said Friday he respected Canada’s stand but added it was unavoidable that the Philippine air force would use the choppers “against the rebels and terrorists.”
“Do not buy anymore from Canada and the US because there is always a condition attached,” he said, adding that he was referring to defense material.
“If I cannot use the gunship, the helicopter, then I might as well surrender this government to them,” he said, referring to the rebels.
“The reason I’m buying helicopters is because I want to finish them off,” Duterte added.
Canadian Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland said Thursday that an “extremely rigorous human rights review” would be undertaken before any export permit was issued over the helicopter contract, facilitated by the Canadian Commercial Corp.
“The prime minister and I have been very clear about the Duterte regime’s human rights abuses and the extra-judicial killings,” she told Parliament.
“I have the authority to deny a permit if I feel that it poses a risk to human rights, and I am prepared to do so,” Freeland added.
Trudeau said in November he had called out Duterte over “human rights, the rule of law, and specifically extra-judicial killings.”
Duterte, who has overseen a crackdown that has left nearly 4,000 drug suspects dead at the hands of the police, later described Trudeau’s comments as “a personal and official insult.”
The Philippine government says police have only shot suspects in self-defense and rejects human rights monitors’ description of the crackdown as a crime against humanity.


Afghan Taliban considering Eid holiday ceasefire

Updated 52 min 14 sec ago
0

Afghan Taliban considering Eid holiday ceasefire

  • No decision had been taken but senior leaders would meet either on Tuesday evening or Wednesday to discuss the option
  • In January, Afghan president Ashraf Ghani offered the Taliban peace talks without conditions

PESHAWAR, Pakistan: The Taliban are considering announcing a ceasefire during next week’s Eid holiday, despite heavy fighting seen over recent days in the central Afghan city of Ghazni, two senior Taliban officials said.
They said no decision had been taken but senior leaders would meet either on Tuesday evening or Wednesday to discuss the option, which was being pushed by some Muslim states and other parties with good relations to the movement.
If agreed, it may be announced in Ghazni province, where the Taliban say they control most of the districts around the provincial capital.
Prior to the fighting in Ghazni, which has killed and wounded hundreds, there had been strong hopes of a repeat of the three-day truce during the Eid Al-Fitr holiday in June, the most concrete sign of progress toward peace since talks between the government and Taliban broke down in 2015.
The government said last month it was considering offering a ceasefire during Eid Al-Adha, the annual feast of sacrifice, which begins next week but has so far not confirmed the offer and there has been no response from the Taliban.
“Our friends are advising us that we should announce a four-day ceasefire for the upcoming Eid Al-Adha so that the people of Afghanistan can peacefully celebrate their Eid like they did two months ago,” one of the Taliban officials said.
“As usual there would be divided opinion on a ceasefire like we faced last time during Eid-al Fitr but our supreme leader Sheikh Haibatullah Akhunzada would then play his role and would either announce the ceasefire or may ask the fighters to continue their fight,” said the official, a member of the Shoura, or leadership council.
Another Taliban leader said he hoped their leadership might announce a ceasefire as last time it had helped win hearts and minds of the people of Afghanistan, with unarmed fighters and soldiers seen mingling on the streets of Kabul and other cities.
“The demand is for one week but our leadership may announce four days of ceasefire to enable the Afghan people to buy sacrificial animals and celebrate Eid Al-Adha in a peaceful environment,” he said.
Asked who the “friends” were, the first official said the Taliban had friends and allies in many parts of the world.
In January, President Ashraf Ghani offered the Taliban peace talks without conditions and the US has dropped its previous refusal to talk to the Taliban, saying it would be willing to participate in an Afghan-led process.
Taliban officials say they have spoken directly to the top US official on Afghanistan and Pakistan in Qatar, where the Taliban maintains a political office and a delegation traveled to Uzbekistan this month to discuss issues including peace.